29 May 2012

Handover (bad) fist (of)

Latest addition to mayoral fleet. The mail coach
Update Tuesday 29 May 2012. Following a quick tweet exchange the Royal Mail have confirmed that the PO Box is now up and running properly. Goodness knows who did what and when but hopefully no-one got their letters of appeal back. If you did please let Mr Mustard know and send him a copy of your parking ticket. If you are in the parking department and know what happened to this on-off parking box do please tell mrmustard@zoho.com in complete confidence.

Executive summary.

The handover of parking to NSL is a shambles. Communications are going back to 1680

The article

It is almost a year since the proposed out-sourcing of the issue and enforcement of parking tickets (Penalty Charges Notices / PCN) was given the nod once over by committee which Mr Mustard failed to attend (the shame). Here is the report.
Parking Business Case - Barnet Council
So let us test just a little of this report, shall we? well some-one has to and it won't have been fully stress tested by councillors or senior officers who if they needed a licence to do what they do would all have been banned by now for reckless privatising.

Some empty words from the report:

A relentless drive for efficiency thus no emails!

The aim of the parking project is to provide a streamlined service which will result in a more efficient service that provides a better experience for customers. This would help improve the reputation of the council.
This improved service will also fit with corporate objectives to form a new relationship
with citizens, work in a joined-up (joined up writing required) way, and improve efficiency.

It will give choice to the customer as to how and when they engage with, and pay for, the service. No real 2012 choice, only webform or letter.

The main benefit of outsourcing the Parking Service is to improve the parking provision
to our citizens and make it easier for them to use the service. What could be easier than sending an email?
You get the idea. The new service will be fab and easy, getting a parking ticket will be fun (OK, not quite that last bit).
It is always stressful, annoying and irritating when you get a parking ticket. It doesn't help that the handover from Barnet Council to NSL has evidently been poorly planned and/or executed as otherwise we wouldn't be reading stuff in the local paper about parking tickets being issued to people who have not noticed that their permit has expired (and why would you, there is more to life than worrying about something which historically, Barnet Council sent you a reminder for). How many errors can occur in Pam Wharfe's directorate before she has to go?

This line is interesting but not true.

A council representative said in a statement: “Resident permit renewal reminders are now going out as normal. Any residents who received a penalty charge as a result of the delay can contact the council to have the ticket cancelled.”
It is disgustingly immoral that the council can blunder and then make the innocent motorist do the work to ring up the council, which he can't do as appeals are dealt with by NSL,  and make an appeal. Why should you have to appeal against a parking ticket issued as a result of administrative error? The Council should simply run a report of all permits that have recently expired and then look up each registration number and cancel any subsequent tickets. Come on Barnet! 

The information about this error should have been put in the news & parking sections of the Barnet website. We paid enough for it so it could at least impart useful information. The news that there is to be a parking charges review, to correct the previous parking charges review of 2011, has appeared quickly. Barnet's stupid way is to only put good news in the website., Well news for you Barnet Council is that if you make an error and then correct it voluntarily and say you were wrong you get better thought of than if you didn't make the error at all.

The system

Before NSL one could contact the council about your parking ticket in one of several ways

Letter, email, on-line webform, telephone, fax (years ago you could even do it in person in the parking office in High Barnet but that was closed - too visible for the public probably).

What does the law say about how one should be able to appeal?

This (maybe, lawyers please feel free to update this opinion)

3.—(1) Regulations 4 to 7 have effect where a penalty charge which has become payable under the General Regulations has not been paid and either—
(a) a penalty charge notice has been served by a civil enforcement officer under regulation 9 of the General Regulations, and a notice to owner served by the enforcement authority under regulation 19 of those Regulations; or
(b) a penalty charge notice has been served under regulation 10 of the General Regulations.
(2) A penalty charge notice served under regulation 9 of the General Regulations must, in addition to the matters required to be included in it under paragraph 1 of the Schedule to the General Regulations, include the following information—
(a) that a person on whom a notice to owner is served will be entitled to make representations to the enforcement authority against the penalty charge and may appeal to an adjudicator if those representations are rejected; and
(b) that, if representations against the penalty charge are received at such address as may be specified for the purpose before a notice to owner is served—
(i) those representations will be considered;
(ii) but that, if a notice to owner is served notwithstanding those representations, representations against the penalty charge must be made in the form and manner and at the time specified in the notice to owner.
(3) A notice to owner served under regulation 19 of the General Regulations must, in addition to the matters required to be included in it under that regulation, include the following information—
(a) that representations on the basis specified in regulation 4 against payment of the penalty charge may be made to the enforcement authority, but that any representations made outside the period of 28 days beginning with the date on which the notice is served (“the payment period”) may be disregarded;
(b) the nature of the representations which may be made under regulation 4;
(c) the address (including if appropriate any email address or FAX telephone number, as well as the postal address) to which representations must be sent and the form in which they must be made;

Mr Mustard has highlighted the final section. The council can set the address to which you must write. They also have the option to allow email and fax communications. Webforms don't get a mention but maybe the regulations have been updated by now and if that was offered as an option apart from writing it would be acceptable (lawyers could argue for hours about whether a webform is an email).

Let us look at the old methods one by one.

Fax: This is little used nowadays (Mr Mustard dispensed with the dedicated fax machine in his office some 3 years ago although the HP all-in-one machine he paid £199 for can scan, print and fax) and it wouldn't cost much for NSL to have one even if only one fax arrived per day. It is useful for when the internet fails.

Telephone: NSL do not take telephone calls. Barnet Council do not take telephone calls about parking tickets. This is OK in the context of tickets which are not to be appealed but when the council have blundered and if they don't voluntarily correct their own errors (what sort of parallel universe do the parking management live in where you can cock up and walk away?) then they should provide a telephone number so that the affected residents can make a quick phone call and have the matter dealt with. Residents have busy lives. Quoting Cllr Jack Cohen (good morning Jack)  "Whatever happened to the concept of public service" (He might have said "ethos" but you get the idea).

Mr Mustard wants you to set up a telephone hotline, Barnet Council, which will enable people who have been issued with a ticket in error to get it cancelled with just one phone call. He will allow you until Monday to set that up. If not, he will publish his own list of numbers which might be the mobile phone number of every senior executive in parking all the way up to the interim Director so that people can complain properly. Won't that be fun?

On-line webform: Mr Mustard can't test this because he doesn't have a parking ticket (please send him one at mrmustard@zoho.com) but thinks that webforms generally are a straitjacket. It is a controlling way of making you communicate and limits your options. The reason NSL want to use it is as it populates the relevant fields of the software for them. So the motorist does the work for the council/NSL which, as you are appealing and thus feel you are innocent, is having the tail wag the dog. Best to write then. Oh dear.

Email: One used to be able to email your appeal to parking@barnet.gov.uk but no longer it seems. There is an address of barnet@nslservices.co.uk on the council website that is going to be taken off (thank you to the man who answered Mr Mustard's questions yesterday on the parking helpdesk - it helps to make Mr Mustard's blogs accurate) as soon as they can do it ( there are 100 people trained in the web software so it shouldn't take long). Mr Mustard has just sent an email to that address which is still accepting email and looks forward to the answer to the question that he sent. It seem entirely reasonable, especially as it is allowed for in the legislation, that one should be able to appeal by email. Mr Mustard has been told that NSL haven't got a scanner but that can't be true, can it? Mr Mustard is happy to hear from any moles who are on the inside at NSL in Worthing. Anyone would think that the council wanted appealing to be difficult so they can catch out more motorists and rake in more fines? (shurely not?)

Come on Barnet Council, again! Make an email address available for appeals.

So Barnet Council take us back to 1680 (the start of the penny post - might be useful information for the pub quiz). We have to write. This webpage shows the address we have to write to. It is

Barnet Parking Services (NSL really)
PO Box 4894, 
BN11 9WT

Did you know that the Royal Mail will tell you the physical address of a PO Box? (Mr Mustard prefers to write to a physical address)  Mr Mustard phoned the Royal Mail. They said "there is no such box". Stap me thought Mr Mustard, you have got it wrong Mr Postman. He gently prodded the helpful Royal Mail man (was it Pat?) who checked all his systems and said no definitely no PO box with that number. Mr Mustard asked what would happen to any letters sent to that PO Box. They will be returned said Mr Postman. Oh bugger thought Mr Mustard but he hasn't heard of this happening.

Do make sure you send your appeals by a "signed for"  service as that stops the old excuse that your letter was not received.

So, Mr Mustard tweeted (if you don't know about "twitter" now is the time to find out. Mr Mustard's twitter name is @_MrMustard - make sure you use the underbar as otherwise another MrMustard gets his messages) the Royal Mail like this:
and here is the reply

Something funny is going on.

You will have an argument if you are out of time for your informal representations or a formal appeal if the council have given out a duff PO Box or if NSL haven't paid for it and it has been cancelled or some other blunder has occurred. 

What a mess. This is the first service to be privatised under the One Barnet  programme. Not a good start and very worrying when much much bigger departments get out-sourced. The parking service is just a huge sausage factory. You put parking tickets into a machine, process them and they either come out as cancellations, or appeals, or paid etc just different flavours of sausage. It really should be a cake walk (too much talk of food - Ed).

Now Mr Mustard will sit back and wait to be corrected by Barnet Council (if he is wrong he doesn't mind - he will put right anything that is not factual) or for them to suddenly do some crisis management.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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